How Do You Open A Vein Onto The Page Without Spilling Your Guts?

Another warm welcome to the readers of Cordelia Calls It Quits! This one’s actually for you.

Vickie and I don’t watch much reality TV. We have little interest in the Survivors and Big Brothers. What “reality” shows we both watch, though, are talent contests. We’ve fallen in love with The Voice, but this year we also found ourselves tuning in for the latest season of The X Factor.

And I’ve started noticing something about the performances.

There’s a lot of talk from the coach / judges about whether and when performers are “feeling” their songs. It was something I kind of understood, but didn’t really get until I started thinking about the life experiences of the performers, especially young Shiane Hawke. This kid is fourteen years old and she’s got one hell of a voice on her. But sometimes she had, for want of a better term, connection issues with some of the material. We could tell she
was singing the material, but not really feeling what it was about – or, more to the point, making it mean something to her, saturating it with her own feelings and experiences.

Still, this girl was fourteen years old, for crying out loud. How do you expect someone that young to be able to sell songs of heartbreak, loss and even cynicism when she’s barely lived herself?

Nonetheless, it was when she found common ground with her own life for a performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours” that she really knocked it out of the park – she sang to a friend who is bound to a wheelchair and has had a hard time due to it.

But how does each performer in that show find that vein in every single song they perform? And more importantly, how the heck does the performer know that his or her personal experience is going to translate in the trip from performer to audience?

It’s a question that I’ve been thinking about with this web log. Just recently, I offered to write a guest post for Kelly Gurnett of Cordelia Calls It Quits. I’d been reading not only her Quits List postings, but also the Reader QUIT guest posts, and I was struck by the idea of writing one of my own.

It’s easy to have an idea, though, and writing my Reader QUIT demonstrated just how tricky turning an idea into an actual work is. I noodled with a few drafts, yet I kept looking at what I’d written and thinking, “This is too flip. I’m not really getting at something I really want to change about myself.”

So, I kept asking myself, “What’s the next layer down?” I’d write some more. I’d look at it again – still too shallow. “What’s the next layer down?”

In the end, I dug as deep as I could; the result was around one thousand, three hundred words of blog post. I looked at it…

… and thought, “Jesus, dude. You’ve really spilled your guts here. This is too much. People don’t want to know all these details about your life.”

Yet something made me not set the result and the whole idea aside. I showed the post to Vickie. She some suggestions and corrections, which I applied before sending the result to Cordelia.

A few nervous days went by before she replied. She’s working on her own stuff, I thought. She’s jut busy.

No, I thought, that’s not it. She hates it. It’s all bloody, ropy intestines all over the floor. There’s no way in hell Cordelia will want to post it, and she’s just taking her time figuring out the best way to break it to me.

Thankfully, I still have a Voice of Reason in this messed-up noggin of mine. Hang on, it said. You mightn’t have known Kelly for long, but it’s pretty clear she’s good people.

Now let’s make the wildly-implausible assumption that she’s not been simply making with the hustle the last few days. The reason behind her taking her time replying, then, is most likely that she’s giving your guest post some thought, working on some criticism, maybe suggesting some topics more in line with her blog. Hey, you’ve already got a list of ideas, right?

And if it is a “no,” then, friend, that’s your first – okay, second – taste of writer’s rejection. It might sting some, but that won’t last. We live, we risk, we learn, we improve.

So I stopped worrying.

Okay, yes, that’s a lie. But I worried less.

Then the dreaded e-mail from Cordelia finally arrived in my in-box. I felt a nervous tingling, an oxygen rush to my brain, as I double-clicked on it and read.

She liked my post.

Heck, she thought it was great.

Relief? That’s an understatement. I just…

It’s easy to watch someone else’s performance and comment on whether they’re really putting their own emotion into a song someone else has written, but when I came to do it myself, I was so very tempted to hide behind superficial stuff, let a little of my worries out in print but keep the underlying stuff tucked away.

The problem is, that’s talking about treating symptoms instead of causes. And if you really want to change things about yourself, it’s those causes that you really have to cut through to as cleanly as you can so that you can examine and excise them.

There’s a quite about writing that no one seems to be able to attribute, that goes something like this:

Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed onto the page.

Naturally, this will hurt. You have to expose a lot of vulnerable flesh with your scalpel-work and hope that folks aren’t going to just poke around in it.

And when you’ve been closed up for a while, it’s hard to believe that someone else, anyone else, can find something about you that’s similar to – or the same as – something about them.

Discovering that someone else found something so personal of value to them? Yeah. It’s a relief.

Not only that, it sets me to looking at everything else I’m working on. While maybe not every blog post needs to be intensely personal, does each one have enough of “the real me” for you, the reader, to connect with? How much geeking out for geek-out sake do I do, and how do I make sure I’m expressing something more than just “OMG this is so KEWL!” or “OMG my life totally SUX!”?

It’s a tough question, but one I hope to find some answers to – as long as I keep writing.

And speaking personally, I hope Shiane Hawke keeps on looking for her own answers, too – she’s got a great voice for telling stories in song with.

Are you stressing?

When have you put a very personal work up for scrutiny?

What did you feel the response would be?

What was the actual response, and how did you feel about it?

How did it change your next stuff?

Links

The Quote Investigator on Opening a Vein

Cordelia Calls It Quits

The X Factor

  • When I submitted my Fear, Exposed post to Ash Ambirge at The Middle Finger Project, my heart was in my throat. I’d already opened up about my BP disorder on my own blog (itself a vein-opening), but this was ASH AMBIRGE. The freakin’ “it” girl of the blogosphere. And this was me not just admitting my craziness issues to my couple hundred readers, but to her zillions of fans all over the globe.

    What I sent in was raw, brutally honest, and completely and utterly embarrassing to admit.

    And her readers LOVED it. I made connections with so many people who were going through their own problems and were so relieved to hear me talk about them. Had I pulled punches and given the post a surface treatment, I’m sure it would have been readable. But what made it stand out was that it was my insecurities and shame, spilled out on the page, no holds barred.

    And to be honest? It felt really GOOD to get them out and set them free. It was a painful process, but it was cathartic.

    I hope you found a little bit of that catharsis yourself with your Reader Quit. 🙂

    • Rob F.

      🙂 I did, Kelly, yeah. And thank you again, especially for being so keen on having me write for you!

      That’s another thing I forget a lot – that there are folks out there who do enjoy what I write and want more of it (my lady wife foremost among them). It’s odd, but after feeling it like an obligation or weight, it actually feels good that I owe so many people some more Slamdance!